Anyone who has been into a Nobu restaurant will have heard the call “irasshaimase”, a welcome, or “come on in”, something commonly used all over Japan as customers enter shops and restaurants.
It acknowledges your presence and alerts other colleagues that someone is now here who might need attention – therefore I guess I was hoping to hear it as I walked into the new Nobu Hotel Shoreditch in London too.
Sadly not, but the welcome from the smartly-clad trio of staff behind the reception desk was friendly enough; certainly it made up for the pretty glum welcome from some of the doormen, who looked more like nightclub bouncers, suspiciously asking why I was there.
Coming along Willow Street from the Old Street end of Shoreditch, it’s a wonder anyone would find the hotel anyway, tucked away as it is, and so discrete its signage at first glance. Stick a flagpole outside, wave it around a bit more; you’re one of the sleekest new hotels to open in London this year and you’re hidden on a street behind the more well-known (for now) Hoxton in Shoreditch. Announce it – give more of an “irasshaimase”.
But of course if you do approach the building from another angle however, you’ll see there are some very grand gestures, such as the cantilevered balconies of the seven best suites in the house.
They jut proudly and industriously out over a small garden and the courtyard of the restaurant – with Transformer-esque girders pointing out into the sky, the work of visionary architect Ron Arad, who sandwiched this 150-room hotel into its quiet Shoreditch spot. His firm may have left the project in 2013, with Ben Adams Architects admirably completing the project, but it’s those steel fingers that give it iconic status.
So cozily is the hotel tucked in, that from my bedroom window, I was looking into the homes and offices of locals and at a graffiti-covered wall – it doesn’t get more neighbourhood than that.
And given Shoreditch is a pretty low-rise place and the hotel is only five storeys high, if you feel clients would rather not look at that kind of view, get them into rooms on the Willow Street side (the Hoxton-facing one).
The hotel – and its super-cool Nobu restaurant – may have opened on July 1, but there is still more work to be done. There was an area of construction debris on the main street, and the “pocket garden” isn’t finished yet. Sitting at the pointy end of the hotel, the idea is that this green space will be a neighbourhood garden where both locals and guests will be able to sit and ponder the meaning of life. Or simply what to have for lunch.
The top floor of rooms isn’t ready yet either, nor is the spa. But they’ll be along soon – sooner than the very top, top floor, which will bring another achingly cool rooftop space to the capital and another dining outlet, hoped for readiness in 2018.
The lobby – apparently a 100-seat lounge, but it feels smaller – has a feature wall of reclaimed tiles and ceramics sourced from around the UK and a small bar that’s open to 11pm. It’s nicely entered via a doorway of lush plants so you can start to channel the Zen, east-meets-west Nobu feeling straightaway.
The idea here is also to provide a social and working space for locals passing by – in keeping with the modus operandi of any new “lifestyle” hotel these days – who can order specialty cocktails and Nobu “bites” such as poke bowls and tacos.
For interiors, the hotel turned to Studio PCH for the Nobu restaurant, a team that has worked on countless Nobu projects worldwide, while east London practice Studio Mica have designed the lobby and rooms.
Being a prominent feature in Japanese architecture and design, there are plenty of natural wood tones everywhere, with bronze finished metal accents throughout and tactile, rich but discrete soft furnishings and materials. To reference the area’s artistic strength, Hackney based artist Sichi was commissioned to produce expressive art installations in each of the guestrooms, which add another level of Japanese cultural heritage.
The rooms are calm and soothing, with slate greys, atmospheric lighting and clever sliding panels at the windows instead of curtains.
A kimono was laid out on my bed at turndown and further Japanese touches include a lacquered “bento box” style TV cabinet in some of the rooms. But the TV in my studio suite was a giant creature that sat at the end of the bed and could be spun around 180 degrees, cleverly providing a division of sorts between the bed and the sofa.
The ceilings are highly polished concrete – maybe that’s why I couldn’t get a phone signal, but free WiFi made up for it – a style that of course fits with Shoreditch’s gritty industrial feel. Vertical slatted black doors merge with similarly covered walls to hide the closet and bathroom, which are on the small side in most rooms, although some signature suites do have standalone bathtubs in the bedroom.
The shower is large and powerful, and there are exclusive Natura Bisse amenities to indulge in; the golden Laufen square countertop basin is an impressively glamorous feature, but it does steal space from those of us who travel with a few more bottles and brushes than we probably should anyway. A smoked glass panel also features in the shower, casting a further slither of atmospheric light into the bedroom.
There must have been stiff but friendly competition between the two European newcomers for Nobu Hotels, with Ibiza and London properties opening within days of each other in the past few weeks – but for now, it's safe to say this is the first “city” hotel in Europe for the brand, one that is expanding at some pace.
Hotel locations slated to open soon are Barcelona, Bahrain, Chicago, Los Cabos, Marbella, New York, Palo Alto, Riyadh and Toronto; joining Las Vegas (the first to open), Manila, Miami and Malibu (there are currently 35 restaurants in 27 destinations worldwide).
In the last 20 years, Japanese chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa may have taken the dining world by storm with his fusion cuisine of traditional dishes from his homeland mixed with Peruvian ingredients, but how does that translate into hotels?
Having now stayed at both the Ibiza and the London hotels – the only obvious similarity really is in the use of the logo and that they both have the Nobu restaurants (menus are almost the same, but with some dishes switched up to reflect their locale). Service and ethos seems great in both – but so it should be in a five-star hotel anywhere.
Instead, the idea is more that each hotel picks up on design inspiration locally. Ibiza is the “white isle”, always in bright sunshine and with a playful and often decadent side – and that’s what that hotel references well. In Shoreditch, there are late-night drinking dens, tech companies, edgy corners and hipsters – therefore that hotel picks up those elements well.
Ready for the high-flying techpreneurs coming into town is the 80 square metre, Nobu Suite, with two private balconies, a dining and lounge area and kitchenette.
For those pow-wows and strategy brainstorms, there’s 178 square metres of meeting and events space with natural daylight – and of course having the 240-seat Nobu restaurant (with private dining spaces and sushi counter) is the icing on the cake.
Nobu's restaurant-bar is also set to be an in-demand meeting place, with a huge well-lit back wall of booze and outdoor bamboo-fringed courtyard.
There may be great restaurants nearby – and of course members’ club/hotels such as The Curtain and Shoreditch House – but fine dining and theatre of this scale from such an international brand is a massive first for Shoreditch.
As mentioned, high-fliers will have to wait for their work-outs, as the gym (featuring the Artis range from Technogym) and wellness area with yoga studio and three treatment rooms wont be here until later this year. But they can console themselves with the knowledge that should they need to dine in their room while working on their next business plan, Nobu’s finest fare can be delivered to them personally 24 hours a day, and in some style.
The extensive in-room dining menu is offered up in a magazine, so you can flick through at your leisure, and includes the classics such as Black Cod Den Miso (£42) and Yellowtail Sashmi with Jalapeno (£21).
But of course, in your room, no-one sings “irasshaimase” for you, the people watching probably isn’t as varied and there is unlikely to be a DJ playing at the top of a grand staircase – all of which you’d find just a lift-ride away, downstairs in London’s hottest new restaurant. And for now, its hottest hotel.